While going back to school is an exciting time, it can also be stressful for parents and kids alike. Now that you’ve survived the first few weeks and have likely settled into a routine, it’s a good time to ensure your children know how to keep their identities safe while engaging in school and social activities.
You might think it’s overboard to worry about your child’s identity: After all, they don’t have any credit cards and may not even use electronic devices yet, right?
Unfortunately, that’s the kind of thinking identity thieves count on.
The truth is that 1 out of every 50 children are affected by child identity fraud as Javelin Strategy & Research notes that it costs U.S. families nearly $1 billion each year. And the problem isn’t going away, as the Federal Trade Commission reports identity theft for those under 19 years old grew 50% last year.
Child identity theft is a real problem. As a parent, it’s up to you to try and protect your son or daughter. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few things you can do to keep your kids safe from preschool through college.
It can be hard to teach a child about identity theft, and at this age, it’s more about parents being aware and vigilant. Many thieves are looking for Social Security numbers (SSNs), so don’t be afraid to question anyone who asks for your child’s SSN as you enroll them in school. As you fill out paperwork for preschool, enroll your child in new activities, or take them to the doctor, you may be repeatedly asked for their SSN. Ask why the Social Security information is needed and how it will be used: You will likely find that many organizations include the SSN request as a formality and that it is not mandatory.
Elementary school is a great time to begin teaching your child the basics of keeping their identities safe. Tell them it is very important that they do not share their personal information with strangers or people they don’t know well, especially online. There will likely be a learning curve as they figure out who they can and cannot trust, so make sure they know they can always refer the individual to a parent.
As your child begins to use the internet more and creates online accounts, it is essential to teach them about using secure and powerful passwords. Passwords are meant to keep thieves out of accounts, so explain that passwords must be more complicated than their birthday or their pet’s name. Help them brainstorm strong passwords using these criteria:
- Twelve or more characters long
- Include letters, numbers, and symbols
- Don’t use any private information (name, birthday, hometown, phone number, etc.)
- Change your password every six months
It can be hard for kids to remember their login information, so a good option would be to have a password manager for the family.
By high school, many kids have smartphones and may become active on social media websites like Twitter and Instagram. Now is the time to remind them that the internet is forever and anything they post online could be found again and used against them. Privacy settings need to be utilized, and your child should not exchange any personal information online, especially with strangers or via a public post. Ensure they are also aware of private information that could be posted in photos without them even realizing it — for example, their house number in the background or a Social Security card on their desk as they take a selfie.
By the time your child is heading off to college, they’re hopefully well-versed in online safety and privacy. However, they’re now entering a situation in which they can’t necessarily trust everyone that they are living with. They need to be aware that they will make friends in their college dorm, but there will also be people around who they may not be able to trust.
An easy way to give your college student a sense of security is by buying them a small safe or lockbox. They can use this to store sensitive documents like bank statements or student loan information — anything with details they wouldn’t want to share with a stranger. Also, remind them to have login passwords/PINs for their laptop, phone, and other electronics so no one can use them when they aren’t around.
The “bad guys” never take a break, which means you may encounter certain scams just as students are going back to school. Not sure how to avoid scams? Generally, they come in the form of text messages or social media posts and tout giveaways, rewards, and freebies. If anything seems too good to be true, it probably is.